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NC State Creatives: Ashtyn Thomas

To first-year architecture student Ashtyn Thomas, design represents possibility and opportunity.

Inspired by her father who works in construction, she chose to pursue architecture in 11th grade. Now, she’s building her community at NC State with the help of the Native American Student Association and the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs (MSA).

“My Lumbee identity impacts every aspect of who I am,” states Thomas. “Not just when I speak about it to others, but it also impacts my abilities as a designer.”

Right now, she’s designing a structure meant for the North Carolina Museum of Art that embraces native culture using the four directions – a significant symbol in many native cultures. “I want to use my culture to show that we’re still here, we’re prominent in the world, and we’re thriving.”

Thomas is also exploring how casino design can have a positive effect on indigenous communities, using the Catawba tribe’s casino as a case study for her aspirations. “I’ve seen how casinos can directly impact native communities, especially ones in very remote locations,” she says. “For the Catawba, they can provide housing, they can provide funding for schools and healthcare. They’re much better off.”

Thomas also stated she would love to design a casino for her tribe since the Lumbee don’t have one yet.

In 2023, Thomas was crowned Miss Lumbee – an honor that asks nominees to develop a platform for cultural advocacy. Ashtyn developed R.I.S.E., which stands for Resilient and Intelligent Young Women Supporting Empowerment. The initiative is designed to help advance the pursuit of STEM careers by young Indigenous women.

At the College of Design, she plans to continue her advocacy to create spaces that provide economic stability, cultural enrichment and resilience for indigenous communities throughout North Carolina.

This post was originally published in College of Design Blog.